One on One with Todd Francis

Todd Francis is a former stand out at Cornell University and a former New England Blazer of the MILL.

Defense Coach for the Atlanta Blaze and Mentor for youth lacrosse all over the United States.

Kevin M. Neibauer caught up with Todd and got to know what makes him tick.

So, let’s meet Todd Francis!

KMN- Being from New England, what was your first exposure to lacrosse?

TF- My Father was the athletic Director at Williston Northampton School which is a Prep School in Easthampton Massachusetts.  They played lacrosse even though it wasn’t played in our public high school.  I had been introduced to the game when I was in 5th grade or so, but did not start playing until 9th grade.

KMN- All-New England team with Williston Northampton School as a netminder… Talk about that team.

TG- We had some good teams during my time at Williston.  Because we were a small school, it really went from year to year as to the talent level. My senior year was not the most talented team, but we had some great young men on that team.  Hank Baer (my co-captain) went on the play at Bates College and Terry Martin went on to play at Kenyon.  Other than that we had a lot of eager athletes that loved the game.

I wanted to add one part to this interview.  It is probably the most important part of my lacrosse career.  When I was in 8th grade, my brother who was playing varsity at the time, told me that I should be a goalie as the current goalie would graduate after my freshman year and we didn’t have any other goalies in school.  So I started my lacrosse career as a goalie.

 This was pretty foreign to me as I was a hockey nut growing up and I was always a left-wing.  I was very athletic, fast and a goal scorer.  I was also a quarterback in football.  I had speed but was tiny as a freshman.  But, as happens in life, I graduated at 6’1″ 190.   I was recruited to Cornell as a goalie.  By my sophomore year, all we had were myself and 2 other sophomores.  In the spring, they accepted Paul Schimoler who was going to arrive the next spring.  Paul turned out to be a 4-time all-American and in my opinion, the best goalie ever to play.  They asked me to move to LSM since I was an athlete.  Turned out to be the best move in my life as my senior year I was an All-Ivy and All American player.

Having been a forward in hockey and a quarterback in football, and having grown up playing a lot of tennis, the move was very easy for me.  I was excited to be able to get out on to the field and use my speed and size on the lacrosse field.  It just goes to show that multiple sports and multiple positions are important for player development.

KMN- You moved into Coaching. Your teams went 75-16 with being named Coach of the Year twice. Talk about that experience.

TF-With my father having been a coach (Football/basketball) for 42 years, the transition into coaching was an easy one for me.  My father dedicated his life to coaching, teaching and mentoring thousands of student-athletes.  I was always amazed at how many young people’s lives he touched and always felt if I had the opportunity to do so, I would like to give it a shot.

After my professional playing career was over, I was living, working and raising my family in Newburyport, Massachusetts and I was approached about starting a program at High School.  There was a teacher at the School, Ed Gaudiano, that had some coaching experience at Tufts, and he asked if I wanted to join him.  It was a great match.  He and I coached together for 16 years.  We started in 2001 with a group of players that had little or no experience.  By the time I left (Ed left the same year), we were one of the top programs in our division in Massachusetts.  It is an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

KMN- Team Captain of the Boston Blazers. How long did you play with that squad?

TF- I played with the Blazers for every year of their original existence.  We started in 1989 and ended in 1998.  We were all a bunch of local players that had no box experience.  The only players we had that had played the game were John Fay from UNH and John Yeager from Boston State. 

Other than that we were a bunch of very good lacrosse players with absolutely no box experience.  It didn’t take long for us to learn the game as in our second year, we went undefeated during the regular season and lost to the Philadelphia Wings in the World Championship.

 About our 3rd or 4th year, we started bringing 2 Canadian players down to play with us each year.  We had some awesome players that came down and I learned so much from them.  This is where my passion for the box game really grew and I continue to coach and learn about the box game today.

KMN-How have you seen the NLL change since your playing days?

TF-When we first played, we played more of a “hockey” style of the game.  We started with lines of 3 offensive players and 2 defensive players on each line.  I really enjoyed this as a defensive player as I spent a lot more time than usual on the offensive end.  I could shoot but did not have the stick skills or IQ of the more talented offensive players.  About our 3rd year, we transitioned into more of the traditional style of box play where we separated our offensive and defensive players and ran out the front door and the back door.  With the domination of the Canadian players in the game today, the skill level is significantly higher, but our game was much more fast-paced.  We ran the field a lot more.  Not saying that this is the right way to play the box game, but it is what we were used to and what we did. 

The biggest problem I have with the NLL today, and it is not the league’s fault, is the lack of numbers of American players in the league.  In the last 5 years, we have seen those numbers increase, and that is thanks to an of the local box leagues being run in places like Boston, Baltimore, Chicago, and Denver.   Also, USBOXLA is doing a great job of leading the way in developing the game across the country.  Once we have youth leagues in more cities in this country, we will see American participation in the NLL soar.

KMN- Atlanta Blaze, Defensive Coordinator. Is it a big difference in coaching pros as opposed to younger players?

TF- In some ways yes and in some ways no.  There is less technical teaching.  All of the professional players are already incredibly skilled.  Even though they are skilled, there are still some opportunities to improve technique.  The biggest part of my job is designing and installing a system that best fits our team against our opponents.  The similarities come in a different realm. There are many aspects to being a coach. Skill development and “x’s and o’s” are only part of it.  Another huge part is being able to connect with and motivate your players.  Just with 5 and 6 years old’s, professional players need to be motivated.  It is my job to get to know each player and figure out what motivates them.  It’s really intriguing that there is a lot of similarities between motivating different personalities, no matter the age.

KMN- The Lacrosse Institute, what is its mission?

TF-I started The Lacrosse Institute in 2014.  I had the opportunity to start a business and even though I wanted to get back it the game of lacrosse full time (I had been an engineer for 20 years), I didn’t want to just start a club.  I had worked for a national club for 8 months and it was an awful experience.  I felt dirty going to work every day.  I wanted to help truly grow the game.  The way to do that is to get more kids playing, not to take kids that are already playing, give them a shiny uniform and charge them 3 times as much money. 

My feeling was that there are programs all over the country that are starting out and they are staffed with eager Dads (and Moms) that have the time, energy and willingness to coach, they just lack experience.  This may mean that they have never played the game, or that they played and have never coached. 

I saw that and realized that I could develop a set of curricula and build a platform to deliver it online.  If I can deliver this to a program that already has coaches with the attributes that I mentioned earlier, that program can develop a solid base of proper coaching techniques and a player development program that is better than even most of the club programs out there.   

I have worked with programs in traditional hotbeds such as Long Island and Baltimore and less popular areas such as Houston, TX and Boise, ID.  I love working with new programs and seeing players truly find a passion for the game after our first session together. 

KMN- Finally, you have three sons. Any of them follow in your footsteps?

TF-All three of my sons played for me through high school.  The oldest, Grant, played 2 years of MCLA at Northeastern, but his engineering curriculum took precedence.  My youngest, Henry is in the same situation at UMass and studying architecture.  My middle son, Sam, went to Bates College and played both football and lacrosse for all 4 years.

Thanks to Todd Francis for his great insight!

By: Kevin Neibauer

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